Federal Workers Union Suing Trump Administration Over Shutdown

Published on December 31, 2018 by Athena Pallas

The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), the largest union of federal employees, representing some 700,000 workers, is suing the Trump administration over the partial government shutdown, which has put 800,000 federal workers in the precarious position of having no paycheck for the duration. Of those workers, 380,000 have been furloughed and some 420,000 have been deemed so essential that they must work without pay. It is that last bit, employees having to continue to work without pay, which is the subject of the lawsuit, a lawsuit filed today that contends that practice is illegal. According to The Hill:

One of the country’s largest unions representing federal workers is suing the Trump administration over the government shutdown, claiming that it is illegal to require employees to work without pay. The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) union released a statement on Monday announcing its lawsuit as the shutdown stretches past a week. The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, alleges that the federal government is in violation of the law by requiring some federal workers, many of which are represented by the union, to work without pay during the shutdown. “Our members put their lives on the line to keep our country safe,” J. David Cox Sr., president of AFGE, said in the release. “Requiring them to work without pay is nothing short of inhumane. Positions that are considered ‘essential’ during a government shutdown are some of the most dangerous jobs in the federal government.”

Last week, AFGE also came out vehemently denying President Trump’s contention that “many” federal workers so support his wish to build a wall that they have encouraged him to continue the shutdown until he gets the funding he wants for that wall. The American Federation of Government Employees, representing 700,000 federal employees, said in a statement issued by AFGE President Jeffrey David Cox Sr., according to The Hill, that there “should be no confusion”, that “They are eager to get back to work…They unequivocally oppose using shutdowns as a means of resolving policy disputes. This is not about a wall, this is about 800,000 real people with real families and real bills to pay.” Other unions for federal employees echoed that sentiment. Paul Shearon, the president of the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers, which represents some 80,000 federal workers, according to The Hill, called Trump’s claim “false” and said “We have not heard from a single member who supports the President’s inaction. Most view this as an act of ineptitude.

Federal workers are also displeased with President Trump, to put it mildly, after Trump on Friday issued an executive order freezing their pay for 2019, so they will not get the 2.1% raises they were expecting. Locality increases, for places in the country where the cost of living is higher, were also eliminated in that executive order. The freeze does not effect military personnel, however, whose 2.6% pay increase for 2019 was including in a defense spending bill which Trump signed in August. According to CNN:

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Friday freezing federal workers’ pay for 2019, following through on a proposal he announced earlier in the year. The move, which nixes a 2.1% across-the-board pay raise that was set to take effect in January, comes as hundreds of thousands of federal employees are expecting to begin the new year furloughed or working without pay because of a partial government shutdown. Trump told lawmakers he planned to scrap the 2019 pay bump for federal workers in August, saying the federal budget couldn’t support it. In addition to the 2.1% pay increase, the executive order also cancels a yearly adjustment of paychecks based on the region of the country where workers are posted, called the “locality pay increase,” that was due to take effect in January. The move does not affect a 2.6% pay increase for US troops next year that was passed as part of the massive defense spending bill Trump signed in August.

Labor unions wield a lot of power as voting blocks. There are over 2 million federal government employees. From that perspective alone, it is extremely foolhardy for President Trump to make the false claim that “many” federal workers are fine having no pay until Trump gets what he wants for his wall, and even more foolhardy to use an executive order to freeze their pay for 2019. Yet Trump continues to pander to his base, while alienating almost everyone else. Trump is responsible for the shutdown, Trump is responsible for these workers being without paychecks, Trump is responsible for freezing federal workers’ pay. Trump is responsible, but he does not take responsibility. It is therefore up to the courts, as in this lawsuit, voters, and Congress to hold Trump responsible, with that last point gaining new strength as the Democrats are set to take over the majority in the House of Representatives on Thursday.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.